Crisis PR: Social media and BP chief executive's PR strategy

Brian Beech, joint MD of Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster takes a look at the Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP’s failed public relations strategy.

We are at the crossroads in the relationship between corporations and consumers and Tony Hayward appears to be a man who has lost his moral compass. There was no transparency; no authenticity; and no speed in his PR response to the crisis facing his company and image became damage very quickly.

Quite simply, BP was not ready for the revolution and nowhere more so than in the game changing area of Social Media which gave millions of individual people the ability to communicate rapidly, publicly and globally with like minded contemporaries about BP’s corporate behaviour, or lack of it.

The impact Social Media had, and will continue to have, on forming opinions of BP is huge. The medium is accessible, democratic, immediate and global. Where once it took a crusade to rally against unethical behaviour, a justified campaign against BP was public in hours.

Tony Hayward had left the digital stable door unlocked and the horse of negative publicity bolted with Leroy Stick, the man behind @BLGlobalPR, in its saddle. Within a month of the spillage he had over 100,000 followers – and counting – with BP being left stranded in the stalls.

As Leroy Stick pointed out to BP, ‘The point is, FORGET YOUR BRAND. You don’t own it because it is literally nothing. You can spend all sorts of time and money trying to manufacture public opinion, but ultimately, that’s up to the public now, isn’t it?’

The game changing technology amplified known – and revealed unknown – failures to address the oil spill. Perceived corporate nastiness is the preserve of Social Media and Tony Hayward felt its full force. Concerns about BP didn’t just polarise and politicise, but gave individuals immediate power to influence others.

In a recent report by Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster 23% of adults who use Social Media said they were willing to lash out at companies and brands online. Now ‘It’s not what you’re saying about you, it’s what they’re saying about you’ and BP failed to have a plan in place to deal with the digital lynch mob.

So, what can Tony Hayward do to win a battle that has already been lost? Sail off into the sunset or realise, belatedly, that success for BP will no longer be defined and achieved by doing well, but by doing good. Going forward, ‘Who cares, wins’, something Tony Hayward needs to remember.

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